Over 1350 athletes from 225 schools throughout New Zealand and small teams from Niue, Cook Islands and Fiji converge on Wellington this weekend for the 47th New Zealand Track and Field and Road Race Championships.
Whanganui will be represented by 45 athletes from Whanganui Collegiate School, 22 from Whanganui High School and Adelaide Roper from Nga Tawa, who starts in the road race.
The Whanganui Collegiate team is the largest in New Zealand and the second largest the school has fielded at the championships while the Whanganui High School team is the largest for many years, if not the largest representing the school at the championship and a testament to the strong athletic revival at the school, a revival that has put life into the weekly club nights and helped Whanganui to victory in the Regional League.
Whanganui Collegiate School and Whanganui High School have medal winners from last year and both have young athletes hoping to reach finals striving for that first step on to the podium. Successful medal winning relay teams provide a strong core to both teams.
Travis Bayler (Whanganui High) and Emma Osborne (Collegiate) took gold in the respective senior boys and girls 400m last year. Sadly, only Bayler will be defending his title as injury has meant that Osborne has been unable to do the quality sprint work and has opted for 800m.
An unfortunate illness this week might reduce her participation as a member of the Collegiate quartet defending the 4 x 400 title. The gritty Bayler has run consistently close to 50 seconds and looks set to dip under 50 at the weekend. Tayla Brunger (Collegiate) was third last year and carries Whanganui's hopes in the loaded and strong girls 400m field.
Rebecca Baker (Whanganui High team captain) was a double medal winner last year (silver 1500m and bronze 3000m). Baker has entered the 1500m and has also entered to make a national debut over steeples.
The finals are an hour apart, so that would be a challenging double. It is not without precedent with Hugo Beamish winning a 3000m /steeples double with a similar time gap back in 2006 and as with Baker the stronger event came first in the programme.
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Genna Maples (Collegiate) won three consecutive junior 100m titles and moves up to seniors for the first time and will face strong challenges from her new peers. Maples impressed in long jump in March and April in which she tops the rankings. She has had limited jumping because of minor ligament damage in her jumping foot but her 5.69m two weeks ago remains the best school age jump this summer.
Sophie Williams will have her last run in the Collegiate colours (moving to Auckland) and hopes to improve on her silver and bronze in sprints last year. Late last summer she won the 100m at the Under 18 championships and the 100m/200m double in the Intermediate girls at North Island.
A late start to training with an injury in October has hampered her build-up but is clearly coming into form as she renews her battle with Nadia Evans (Auckland). Williams will run in the strong Whanganui Collegiate senior girls relay team.
Whanganui High School relay teams impressed last year and are entered in all relays at the weekend including the new mixed 4x400 races. They field a particularly strong junior girls 4x100 team which have a real podium chance.
Featuring in the that team will be Maggie Jones who has impressed over both 300m and 80m metre hurdles. Her team-mate Paris Munro also starts in both hurdle events. Nat Kirk (Whanganui High) has stepped down from 800m to run in the 400m and showed outstanding promise over 300m hurdles where he makes his national debut. Connor Munro (Whanganui High) who took podium places at North Islands over 110m and 300m hurdles starts in both.
Liam Back (Collegiate) has the fastest 800m time heading into the championships and has backed this up with a personal best over 400m last Tuesday to lift confidence in his finishing speed.
The 800m has drawn 42 entries that will require three rounds of competition and is Back's target event although he is also running in the 1500m. Bach's programme is tight but he does have nearly three hours between the finals with the target event first on Sunday.
Lucas Martin (Collegiate) has broken in his own Collegiate 3000m walk record three times this season and is a strong medal contender on Sunday.
The championships always produce some new names and faces and I hope to report on both the success of our leading athletes and some new faces next week.